Episode IV: English & Economics: Life at the World Bank & Stanford

In this episode, we explore the use of English in the field of economics. Lautaro from Argentina is pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics at the prestigious Stanford University in the US, and also has experience as an employee at the World Bank. He shares about his time in the World Bank and the process he followed to secure his place at Stanford. Be sure to use the transcript to help with comprehension.


Intro: The Natural English Podcast: Success stories from beyond the English language barrier. Follow along with the transcript linked in the description.

Nahum - Natural: Hello and welcome to the Natural English Podcast, if this is your first time, my name is Nahum and I'm a teacher at the Natural Language Institute. And in this podcast we talk to non-native English speakers who have followed different career paths or projects. And we hear about how English has played a part in their journey. And as a reminder, there's a lot of content you can access to really study and understand this conversation. And the link to that is in the description, if you'd like to access that. So today we have someone from the field of economics. Lautaro, welcome to the podcast.

Lautaro: Hi, how are you doing?

Nahum - Natural: Good. I hope I pronounced it correctly.

Lautaro: Oh, I hope that I pronounced yours correctly too but I think that neither of us did it well, maybe?

Nahum - Natural: We're calling each other by completely different names.

Lautaro: No but yours was for sure much better. It's LauTAro, it's just a matter where...

Nahum - Natural: Aah, LauTaro, yeah.

Lautaro: Yours? You told me once, but

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, it's NA-HUM It can be a little bit tricky yeah. Well, LauTAro, first question so people know where are you from, where are you calling from today?

Lautaro: OK, so I'm from Argentina, but from Buenos Aires more specifically. But I'm calling you from Stanford, California, that's like 40 minutes going south from San Francisco .

Nahum - Natural: Awesome, and what is it that you do?

Lautaro: So I'm a first year graduate student in Stanford. I'm doing a Ph.D. in economics. So that's that's what I do. It sounds quite like, maybe, daunting, that name, but it's just going to courses for now and later will start to develop my own research projects.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. I mean, Stanford University is pretty famous across the world. Anyone who knows anything about universities has heard of Stanford University. So what led you to decide to take a Ph.D. in economics?

Lautaro: Well, I always has, like interested I always was interested in the questions of broad questions of economics. I started my undergraduate studies in history, but I always take courses, I always was choosing courses that were quite related to economics. So after a year or so, I totally changed towards economics. And I like this type of question that relates well, that relates policy questions or policy relevant questions with academic answers or very precise answers, but I wasn't so sure about doing this until I started working at the government in my country. There I learned a lot from policy oriented research, but I saw at some point, you know, policy research has these tight deadlines that you have to meet and you need answers for one week, two weeks, one day, maybe.

Nahum - Natural: Right

Lautaro: And I thought that there were many interesting questions that came from that side, from policy research. But there was no time to give a complete and satisfactory answer. Which is OK, because policy is not waiting for the best, fancy , answer possible. You just need to think some time, and it's how it should work. You know, that I personally I felt that I can I could develop much more time to get more precise on more interesting things from these interesting questions.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. I mean, I guess that's what leads someone to take a Ph.D. is to really go deep and spend a good part of, I don't know, five, six years, sometimes more, exploring some some questions,

Lautaro: Just to study is six years and then at some point...

Nahum - Natural: You have to be curious for that. So Lautaro, I know that you've spent some time at the World Bank in the US. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?Obviously, this global institution works across so many countries. So what was your job at the World Bank?

Lautaro: Well, mostly the work my husband has, like two big sectors to the bigger areas, one is the proper bank, you know, the people who make projects or just receive projects from country members and they give priority to these countries to develop these projects. And that's one area, maybe the most known area of the World Bank. But there's another huge area that is more like a university or a research center that makes a lot of research that is quite big. And it's divided across areas of interest, I don't know, poverty, trade as something other governments. I think there are many, many subfields inside and also divided by regions. So I was in one that is called poverty LAT like that, that is for Latin America and Caribbean countries. So this is focused on poverty and education and how to tackle poverty, specifically in these countries. There was a short-term consultant, and I was part of the of a team that which has a very technical objective. And we had to.... let me try to explain this in the most basic way. Measuring poverty has like three biggest steps. These are 1. Choosing a basket of goods and services that we believe that is reasonable to like a bare minimum and then choosing how to put prices, choose prices for these these goods and services.

Nahum - Natural: Sure.

Lautaro: And then you have the value of this basket. With the value of this basket that is called poverty line, there are many (names), but one of them is a poverty line, the most known, then you have to compare that with the income of the people. Yeah. So this 1. Makes the basket, given by putting prices to this basket and then measure income are the three biggest steps. However, the devil are in the details here, so we have to get good information.

Nahum - Natural: Good Expression, devil in the detail, the detail is the important think.

Lautaro: Yeah because there are many, many, many decisions that you have to make in order to put in practice these these big concepts. And they are not always like.... they are fundamental, but there are many, many options that...well, what I should do if I want to get a good measure of poverty? So we have to gather these practices of many statistics offices of different countries in Latin America, and we have to provide internal documents that that explain why they do that and which are the best practices to to follow, where the trade off, or which tool you would use in some scenarios which to you would be using policies in that. But it was quite technical. It was also related to that because we we have to see in data what thing works and what thing didn't work so much. So it involved a bit... a bit no, a ton of research and a lot of also like working in coding and working with actual databases. So it was fun, we were a small team but we worked a lot and I think that we did a good job..

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. It sounds, it sounds very interesting, kind of finding that barometer to measure poverty and how it changes over time. Sounds very interesting. So Lautaro, how did you use English in the World Bank if if at all, how did you use it?

Lautaro: This is funny because since we were doing research oriented to Latin American countries, a bunch of the stuff is also from Latin America, like a lot of Latin American economists..,So in like everyday work conversation, Spanish was the standard, but the problem was that many times like our superiors or maybe some mates from other areas would pop in and we have to start speaking English. It was like kind of a rule that if there was someone that there was not a Spanish speaker, we should speak English because if you're not, you tend to, like, isolate him.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. Yeah, makes sense.

Lautaro: Yeah it was weird because I thought that accepting this job was a good idea to make a soft landing in the U.S. before I started the P.H.d and it would be a good opportunity to learn a lot of English in work every day and then I arrived to the office and we use a lot of Spanish. Sometimes I have some had problems presentations and that was quite challenging because we were all the time discussing technical things in Spanish, and then you have to switch.

Nahum - Natural: You know, we have to present the same the same information you've discussed in one language and in another language, I guess, yeah, it could probably cause some confusion. Yeah, good. A good a great skill to be able to present in English as well. Yeah. And well just moving forward to Stanford University, getting a place there, I guess people will want to know, many people dream of getting into a university of a similar standard to Stanford. Was it a big challenge to get a place secure that PHd position?

Lautaro: Well, for sure it was a great challenge. But I mean, my my background is not like a background of a guy, that for sure, he knows where he would be like to be like when I was undergrad, I didn't realize that I would be here now or I didn't think about it every time. So I didn't make every step in my life in I to be here. So it it was much more eratic my way to the school. But yeah, it was quite difficult. The application process itself is very stressful, but that's a matter of one year, you know, and in that application process you have some requirements like hard requirements. You need to have some really good grades in standards exams. One of them is in English too, so you have to be proficient at some point in English. But I think that these hard requirements are not that they have this to to make a good application. It's much more like a soft set of things that you eat since they are like they are not so easy to... It's not like a checklist, you know.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, we say you're not like ticking off requirements, like, OK, English exam and maybe an IELTS to this level, ok tick. It's kind of... I guess it's kind of selling your vision for what you want to research or...

Lautaro: Oh well that is also true. But I think that before even before that just to be more concrete, you know, to me it was very important to start before my Phd application to do a master and to be engaged with people that had been in this place before, like faculty or like students that were graduate students at the moment and were coming to Argetina to present something. So it was like a much more, I think of starting to develop these kind of network where, you know, people that are doing this type of stuff. And, um, well, at some point, if you get interested in these things, you start like having conversations with them, get get some contact, get in contact with these people. And that is a set of things that take more time to develop.

Nahum - Natural: and allow to talk in a little bit about how English is now, I guess it's pretty fundamental to studying now. In what ways? What sort of activities do you mostly use English? Maybe, I don't know if it's you need it for presentations or if it's important for research or maybe everything involves English at this stage.

Lautaro: Well, and yeah, everything's English now. Well not everything since I moved to Stanford with my wife and we don't speak English at home. So yeah, it's not like twenty four hours in English but if you don't do that way it's going to be twenty four hours English. So I think that mostly now that everything's online and the most necessary skill in English is to be able to communicate in a quick and easy to make your point to, I don't know, to ask a good question In the middle class, let's say this morning I was in class so yeah I don't know, thirty people in the zoom , maybe many of them are bored because some classes tend to be get boring at some point if they are quite long. So if you have a question, you have to be like precise, concrete, you have to be focused is not the same as in class. So it's good to be able to communicate things clearly also key to interact with your mates, because the workload in terms of study, doing like actual exercise programs, you know. It's a sell lot and you have to .. it's a group thing at some point if you just isolate it, do it all by yourself, it's quite hard, or at least to me, it's it's why too many new things to do, so I like to study in groups and then I realized that I'm not so good at being also, again, efficient and precise. So this is a lot of learning. Besides the Phd courses.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, it's impressive, obviously, to study abroad in a different language. And at the same time, the expectation is the same as though you are a native speaker. Right. This it is not like an exception, like, OK, you can take a little bit longer. You have to be at the same level. So I think, you know, we say "hats off" to people who study abroad. It's very, very brave and a great experience to have.

Lautaro: And it's incredible since I believe that economics, economic like teaching also in Argentina, and I believe in many countries, with respect to other careers, it's much more permeated by English. You know, you read the papers in English even in undergraduate school. So.. and I was used to reading in English a lot, but it's different because you read and your head is thinking in Spanish and now this is like live action. You know, you have to think in English and it's quite difficult. I mean, there are moments in the in the day that they are explaining something that is quite technical, and quite fast in English, in my head, maybe if I'm tired...my English ear, I say completely closed and I just hear blah, blah, blah, blah, and I need a rest.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, I know the feeling. Lautaro, last question. People who are thinking about studying abroad, could be the US, UK, Australia, in an English speaking country. What one piece of advice would you give of how they can best prepare for that.

Lautaro: So the main piece of advice that I would say is this one that we were talking about, if you're really interested in this, you should start to do some networking with people that that are in a similar position that you would expect to do in the future or went to some university that's related to this university that you are aiming to or it's in the field of study of what what you are interested because these advisors are going to help you a lot and be engaged with then in workplace relations just like this, just appear and say, hey, I am interested in your work. I am willing to do something like that in the future. So what what is your suggestions? What do you have any advice for me? In my case, I have great advisers. One of them was like my my boss for three years and was a great adviser for me. And he opened me this opportunity, not directly, it's not a thing that, oh, you pick your phone, he has the key to open. But it's like being with people that have gone through this path that you want to do is that you want to do it. It's like the way to do know how to arrive there, you know.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. Well connected people who have had that experience. I guess that's part of the reason behind this podcast is also to help give people that guidance as well. They have big dreams and big plans for their career. And thank you so much, Lautaro, for your advice. Tell me about your time at the World Bank, your time at Stanford University and your PhD, which we wish you all the best for. Thanks. Thanks for the advice. I'm sure people will be very interested in what you had to say.

Nahum - Natural: So if you have enjoyed this conversation, be sure to check out our website where you can study the conversation, look at the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation points, and see you next time.

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